[Throwback Thursday — Originally published March 2014]
My son is almost three years old. He has been classified as “all boy” by many of my family members and friends when they see him bouncing off the walls, playing in dirt, crashing cars, and shooting fake guns. Other people have literally said the words “he might be gay” because, at the same time, his dressers are pink, he has several baby dolls he nurtures and cuddles as if they were real, he likes Barbies and Dora, and has a pink shopping cart he brings every time we go grocery shopping.
Honestly, his sexual orientation doesn’t matter to me, not because he’s so young, but because it never will. I will always love him regardless. And, I am more than happy to buy him the pinkest, “girliest” toy on the shelves if he asks for it, because I see absolutely nothing wrong with it.
Things, material things, are not masculine or feminine. We have defined them as so, but they’re not.
I want my son to find himself on his own terms, to explore every part of the world he so desires, and to engage in things he truly enjoys. I will never tell him he is wrong, so long as he is not harming himself or someone else. Those last few sentences make me sound like a normal parent, right? Sadly, it seems I am not.
This seems to be an ever-growing issue among our society. I’ve been adamant about eliminating ‘traditional gender roles’ since I was young, but once I gave birth to my son it became even more important.
We have definitely made strides in the fight against bullying of people who aren’t exactly like us, aren’t our version of “normal”. But we have not come far enough.
First, gender was scientifically, literally the parts you had. Now, more and more people and companies are respecting that gender doesn’t have to be dictated by what’s between your legs, but rather with which you identify; the person, male or female, within you; the person you know in your heart is really you, no matter what your anatomy has to say. And while I am thrilled about this, there is still a pretty fine line between males and females.
The problem here is the one or the other mentality. You must be a male or a female, and you must be “all boy” or “all girl”. There is no in-between, except for the “metrosexual,” but why can’t he just be called a man? Or the “tomboy,” but why can’t she just be called a woman?
No matter if you were born with woman parts, or with a woman brain and heart, if you identify yourself as female you are expected to like pink, to play with baby dolls as a child, to dress up like a princess, to shop. On the other side, if you identify yourself as a male you must never like any of those things (unless you’re gay–which is a whole other issue in itself with which I don’t agree), but you better enjoy playing in the mud, dinosaurs, cars and trucks, and beer.
Really, all of my feelings about this can be summed up with one question: Says who?
Says you? Haven’t we already figured out that all people are different and should live their lives according to their own standards, so long as they are not breaking the law, harming others, or harming themselves?
Says society? Sorry for not putting my entire faith into predetermined norms, seeing as how they’ve been wrong so many other times. Things change, remember? (or did you forget about slavery, among so many other things?)
Says your parents? No offense, but parents do not always know best. Which is one of the main points of this article.
We need to be allowed and able to find ourselves. Parents are there to care for us, to keep us safe to the best of their ability, and to guide us. They should not force their beliefs on us and turn us into mini versions of themselves–or even worse, what they hoped to become but were never able to.
Recently, one of the highlights of the media has been a story about a boy who wore a “My Little Pony” backpack to school, was bullied, and then banned from bringing the backpack to school again. Thankfully, the boy has now been allowed to return to school with the backpack, but what’s mainly frightening are the responses.
I do understand the school wanting to keep order and avoid disruption, because the main purpose of school should be to educate. However, I do not understand people like Matt Walsh, who wrote this article explaining how he forces his children to conform to what he believes boys and girls should do, like, wear, etc. It is baffling how many people agree with him.
Here’s some history for you: what is expected of certain genders has indeed changed over time. At one point, boys wore dresses and didn’t get their hair cut until they were about 6 years old. Pink and blue became gender colors in recent years.
You don’t like it when other people tell your children what to like or dislike, because you want them to be their own person, right? Only, “their own person” really means within the bounds you set. You get in an uproar about television shows impacting your children? You’re offended because of the blatant sexuality in our society?
What about the suppression of children’s natural curiosity? Oh, you didn’t think of that one, did you? We’re supposed to assist in molding our children, not carve them out to be exact replicas of ourselves, or who we want to be.
Let’s go back to how I understand the school wanted to avoid disruption. Which I do. But really, we have the power to stop that disruption from ever happening.
If a student bullies a child with autism, for example, the school punishes the bullies. They do not, and cannot, tell the student with autism to stop attending. We teach our children (at least we should) to be kind to others. We teach them to be kind to those who cannot help what is “not normal” about them. However, we do not do the same when it comes to what we believe to be choices.
As adults, as a society, we are put off by overweight people. Our children see that. They see it in the way we diet obsessively, in the way we admire toned (photoshopped) celebrities, in the awkward glances we give to overweight people. Even if we tell them to be kind to children who weigh more than they do, they note how we react to them, so they do the same. And they not only do the same because of what they have learned from us, but they do it in fear of us. They tease the “fat kids” because they fear gaining weight and losing your adoration. They want to fit in with you, to be liked by you.
And if you don’t like something, well, they better not either. And they most definitely better not become it.
However, often being overweight is not as simple a choice as we make it out to be. So the school punished those bullies, too. They do not send the bullied child home and tell them to come back when they lose a few pounds. So why is it okay to send a child home and tell them not to wear their favorite color, or their favorite backpack? Because it’s a choice? But… is it?
We turn our likes and dislikes into choices by being carved into what society wants us to be. If you like the color purple, you just do. You don’t choose to like the color purple. However, if you’re a boy, your parents tell you “boys don’t like purple” so you literally lie to yourself and change your favorite color. But tell me, what harm does liking the color purple cause? Other than being bullied (which we can change), it doesn’t harm anyone or anything. On the other hand, telling your son that he is not allowed to like the color purple does in fact harm him.
You are the very first bully your child will come in contact with. By telling a boy who wants to play with Barbies or baby dolls or paint his room pink that it is wrong to do these things, that only girls do them, you are telling him a natural part of him is wrong, too. You are teaching him to hide his true feelings, to lie to himself and others, and to act out towards those who are allowed to express themselves the way they see fit because he is not allowed to.
You don’t have to teach a boy how to be a boy, or a girl how to be a girl. You just have to guide them to be good people, and they will figure out the rest.
Now, the same goes for girls, but usually it’s not as intense. There are some people who say “girls don’t _____,” or “that’s for boys.” Which has the same effect as above. Though, usually we are more lenient with our girls.
If a boy wants to wear a dress, he is shamed. If a girl wants to wear baggy pants or a loose T-shirt, we typically accept it. Which is also indirectly telling them that boys are better than girls. Boys can’t play with Barbies, but girls can play with cars. So obviously boys must be better since girls’ toys are so shameful. As girls get older, it is even more acceptable to be “one of the guys.” But, show me a man who is “one of the girls,” and of course he must be gay, right?
Not to mention, there is nothing wrong with being whatever sexual orientation one identifies with, so stop making “gay” out to be a bad thing.
Of course, children can be cruel. Of course, some children will rebel no matter what. But for many, many years, you are the most influential person in your children’s lives. They look up to you, they care about you, they mimic you, they learn from you. Even if they deny it, they aspire to be like you; even if they purposely try to be the opposite of you, many of your ways will be imprinted in them without them even realizing.
Parents and guardians have way more power than they realize, and they abuse it all too frequently, often without realizing as well.
I understand that parents want what is best for their children. (other side note: this is mainly directed towards the parents who truly care about their children–as we all know, there are many different “parents”.) I understand that you want to instill your values and beliefs and goodness in your children. But, what if what you perceive to be goodness actually isn’t?
Either way, teach your children. Do not force them to like what you like, to believe what you believe. Teach them all the wonderful things about yourself, but don’t hide the bad. Do not tell them your feelings as if they are facts; let your children find themselves on their own. Simply help them. Of course, teach them right from wrong. But not your version of right and wrong. Killing is bad, helping others is good. That’s good and bad. Liking blue or pink does not fall into the same category.
I just can’t wrap my head around people who won’t let their children make their own decisions. Of course, they must have structure. But they do not need a full blueprint.
What is wrong about a boy playing with baby dolls? When girls do it, we think “oh, she’ll be such a great mother someday.” Do we not want our boys to be great fathers? When boys explore in the woods and come back all muddy we think “he’s so adventurous and brave.” Do we not want our girls to be adventurous and brave?
Children are creative, they are curious, and they love to play. Let them create, let them discover, let them play. Don’t inhibit their young lives by telling them they are wrong for wanting something harmless. They will carry that with them for the rest of their lives.